Theraysimon's Reviews > Ham on Rye

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
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Jun 07, 10

Read in December, 2009

This is the best Bukowski has to offer. Most of his novels trace the slow, hard grind of a humdrum existence and the small victories of sex, booze, and betting on the races. Ham on Rye is different. It chronicles Bukowski's childhood. There are wonderfully tender and sad moments. But the over-arching feeling is one of male competition, of growing up and having to jostle for position, of struggling to survive. The three chapters in which Bukowski (or Chinaski) goes to the hospital to receive treatment for his acne are truly exceptional. Some of the best writing I have ever come across. It is reasonable to argue that the book - like most Bukowski novels - doesn't stick to a conventional plot arc. It is instead a sequence of episodes. But this, I would venture, is one of the joys of Bukowski's writing. He has a way of establishing character, building tension, and then releasing tension in an often witty and unexpected climax - and he does all this within a dozen pages. Every cluster of four to five chapters is like this. Another aspect of Ham on Rye that is open to criticism is its lop-sidedness. The last fifty pages or so descend into conventional Bukowski: he drinks, fights, drinks, fights. These fifty pages are good, but they do not match the moments of greatness that we get in the early stages of the book. Overall, one of the best novels I've read. You can read it in under a day. You SHOULD read it in under a day.
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